Words by Maeve McDermott and Alex Schelldorf. Photos by Alex Schelldorf.
On Sunday night, Merriweather Post Pavilion in nearby Columbia, Maryland hosted two bands each returning with new albums after more than a decade. Both headliners, Faith No More and openers Refused, released new material this year after a combined 35 years: Refused’s follow-up to 1998’s instant classic The Shape of Punk to Come is Freedom, and Faith No More’s Sol Invictus is the band’s first new album since Album of the Year in 1997.
This show could have easily been that of two groups, their members now past their prime, attempting to cash in and maybe recapture their former glory. Instead, it was an impressive night of showmanship, both performances anchored by two impressive frontmen with an awful lot of stage presence.
This evening was an exercise in darkness and light. The Swedish openers spent a significant portion of their set in silhouette, wearing dark formalwear and cast in stark relief by blinding light. Their poles were found in Faith No More, whose entire set was white; outfits, monitors, instruments, backdrop and even their crew’s uniforms, the floor covered with a massive white rug.
Furthering their pseudo-cultlike appearance, FNM’s stage was adorned with dozens of flowerboxes a lá Morrissey, a juxtaposition to their driving but curious hard rock. Prior to taking the stage, the group’s pre-set music was equally strange: B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” 5th Dimension’s “Age of Aquarius,” Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” and, somehow, even the Pink Panther theme. Not to be outdone, the Scandanavians set up to Miles Davis’ “Moja” and took the stage to Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta.”
Before the stage took on its otherworldly white, Dennis Lyxzén and the rest of Refused pummeled out ten songs for the early crowd, playing an even mix of old and new material. Halfway through the set, Lyxzén charged through the general admission crowd and into the seated area of Merriweather, literally ending up in the laps of some decidedly nonplussed sitters.
And just after 9:30 p.m., FNM’s notorious frontman Mike Patton took the stage to cheers for their first D.C.-area show in nearly 20 years. The group began playing shows again in 2009 after a decade-long absence, and over the course of 15 songs and a three-song encore, the dedicated crowd of fans got the reunion show they’d bargained for. The band’s locked-in professionalism provided a backdrop for Patton’s spastic stage antics, stalking around in circles on stage, wailing into a megaphone and grinning with his tongue out. (We’d like to think he was reminiscing on the weirdo pranks he used to play on Axl Rose. Google them.)
In a ballsy move, Patton and co. brought out their mega-hit “Epic” just five songs in, leaving the rest of the set for the diehards. Naturally, most of the crowd stayed put, and were rewarded by an encore of two rare Faith No More tracks: “Rise of the Fall,” in its first ever appearance outside of Germany, followed by “RV,” which FNM hadn’t played live since 1993.
However, the cavernous Pavilion made a suspect backdrop for the show, with a surprising number of empty rows. Perhaps D.C.’s Echostage would have made for a better experience—but probably not.